Sunday, December 30, 2007

Early Morning Conversations

Occasionally, while at grandparents' houses, Sam has slept in the room with us for one reason or another. And with Joy pregnant, she often likes to sleep in a recliner to help ease any pain in her back. As a result, I'm often to first to hear Sam wake up and take care of whatever needs he may have.

Friday morning, around 6:00, I was awoken by Sam struggling mightily in his bed. He was flopping back and forth in a prelude to wakefulness, so I lay still, hoping he would return to sleep.

His groggy little voice dashed that hope, but left me something to laugh about the rest of the day in exchange for a little lost sleep. Right before he spoke I heard two distinct "ppffffbbpptttt" sounds from the crib. They were quickly followed by three statements of waking up fact:

"I have gases."

"I have two gases."

I thought he was finished at that point and made to retrieve him from bed, but stalled long enough for Sam to deliver the most profound of his observations:

"I am full of gas."

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Handel's Messiah, the History, the Traditions, the Strangeness

It's Christmas night, which means that while the family is watching a movie, I'm sitting at the computer thinking about the iconic Christmas music, Handel's Messiah. I suppose I'm suffering the gift and the curse of being a musicologist.

I began thinking about Messiah because my father-in-law introduced me yesterday to Christopher Rouse's Karolju, a work he heard on the radio and thought I would find interesting. I did think the music had merit (though I'd like to hear the entire work) but it got me thinking about how hard it is to create new "classical" Christmas music. Handel and Tchaikovsky pretty much have the market cornered, and of the two works, Handel's gets the most play this time of year.

Handel’s greatest success certainly was Messiah. It was first produced in 1742, written when he was 56. The work was commissioned from the composer as a benefit for various Dublin charities, and so was premiered in Ireland.

On the face of it, you would never expect Messiah to be the work Handel is remembered for. It doesn't match up with most of his oratorios. First of all, unlike most of Handel's oratorios, it takes its text directly from the Bible. Because of that fidelity, it lacks any real plot in the traditional sense. It doesn’t really develop any drama, but instead is more detached and philosophical. It is a vast musical panorama of the life of Jesus broken into three parts - Old Testament prophecies, Christ's Birth, Christ's Crucifixion and Resurrection - although most often we only hear the first two parts at Christmas. In addition to the lack of plot to hook in an audience, the whole thing lasts about three hours.

Still, this oratorio, which took Handel only 23 days to write the first draft of the entire thing, is the single work that survived Handel's life. In fact, there is a long tradition that developed around it. In 1859, for example, there was a celebration in London commemorating the centenary of Handel’s death.Included a performance of the Messiah with 2,765 singers, 460 instrumentalists, playing to an audience of over 81,000.The kind of festival happened every year thereafter for more than 60 years, and the Messiah was always the centerpiece.This sort of thing still goes on every year to this day in cities around the world. I know that in Kansas City, they have a yearly Messiah sing-a-long, in which the general public is invited to bring its scores and “perform” the piece.

I can't think of another piece of "classical" music that has this kind of hold on the general imagination. The hold is so strong, that when you hear examples like this one, you immediately know what is wrong and why it is funny. And probably you have heard examples like that one in your own lifetime, as everyone has tried the Messiah out at some point in their lives.

Reflecting on the situation, I can't help but recall George Bernard Shaw's penetrating remarks on the work – “I have long since recognized the impossibility of obtaining justice for [Messiah] in a Christian country…. A mood of active intelligence would be scandalous.Thus we get broken in to the custom of singing Handel as if he meant nothing; and as it happens… he meant a good deal….Why, instead of wasting huge sums on the multitudinous dullness of a Handel Festival does not somebody set up a thoroughly rehearsed and exhaustively studied performance of the Messiah…with a chorus of twenty capable artists?Most of us would be glad to hear the work seriously performed once before we die.”

Monday, December 24, 2007

Day 4 of 100 Christmas Gifts

1. Contagious laughter
2. Hot Showers
3. Uninterrupted Sleep
4. Time to yourself
5. Getting what you need before you even know you need it
6. Christmas lights
7. The wonder of a child
8. Firemen who let you drive their fire trucks
9. Granddads who take you to see fire trucks
10. Nanas who play with you in the white van
11. Dickens's A Christmas Carol
12. Fellow journeyers who share their story
13. Holy Communion
14. The excitement of a child at Christmas
15. Watching a child at Christmas
16. Late afternoon naps
17. The smell of cornbread dressing cooking
18. The adventure of making chocolate covered cranberries
19. Candlelight Christmas Eve services
20. God's Radiant glory

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Day 3 of 100 Christmas Gifts

Day three of our Christmas gifts, a day of rest and reflection:

1. Sam exclaiming at lunch: "My juice makes music!"
2. Live nativities
3. A little bit of a nip in the air
4. Reunions with old friends
5. Sunday afternoon naps
6. Christmas music at church
7. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
8. Hot rolls after lunch
9. Cheesecake
10. Cherries in December
11. Families who love you enough to be interested in what interests you
12. Feeling the baby kick
13. Deep, open conversations about faith
14. Late afternoon sunlight
15. Being understood
16. Being heard
17. Answered prayers
18. An empty work e-mail inbox
19. The promise of being able to live life to the fullest

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Day 2 of 100 Christmas Gifts

Today Sam's regular mealtime prayer took on a slightly different form. Normally he prays, "Dear Jesus, Thank you for trucks and buses. Amen." We have to prompt him to think of other things he might be thankful for or to ask God to bless the food. However, today was different. Today's prayer before lunch went as follows: "Dear Jesus, Thank you for Nana and GrandDad and the dogs. Amen."

The dogs are Rinski and Tucker, Heather and Adam's two dogs, which Sam has been looking forward to seeing all week. In fact, when we arrived at Nana's house, he had to inquire as to where the dogs were. Today, they finally arrived with Heather and Adam. Of course, when they all got here, Sam didn't care that Aunt Heather and Uncle Adam had walked in the door, only the long awaited dogs, which immediately brought squeals of delight and uncontrolled giggles.

All this to say, I think the dogs would make the top of Sam's list of ways God has blessed him today. Here are the other ways we have seen the light of God in our lives of late.

1. Car transporters
2. Blue juice (otherwise known as some special frozen drink for kids from Chili's)
3. Barnes and Nobles with Nana
4. A satifying meal for a pregnant tummy from Chili's
5. Watching Sam's delight over drinking said "blue juice"
6. Unexplained hand swelling that is finally gone!
7. Singing Christmas carols around the piano as a family
8. Sisters
9. Memories of loved ones
10. 4D ultrasound pictures and video of a new niece
11. Finished work and time off for family
12. The grace to remember when to stop
13. Long car rides that give unexpected time one-on-one with family
14. Rain (instead of snow)
15. Toddler pronunciations of the phrase "yellow jello"
16. Sleeping in
17. Sleepy ramblings over the baby monitor
18. Catch Phrase with the family
19. Discussions of differing viewpoints where respect reigns
20. Health and healthy loved ones
21. And of course, the dogs.

Friday, December 21, 2007

One Hundred Christmas Gifts

Since we always travel home for the holidays, Joy and I have started a tradition of celebrating Christmas with our family the two days before we slide into the car and strike out on the road. This year, we decided to take Sam down to Union Station where every year they set up a large model train display. The trains set up are in G, S, and O scale, which meant for Sam, they were larger than any model train he had ever seen.

As you can see, Sam was enamored, especially when he discovered they had an entire section devoted to Thomas and his friends. He must have watched James and Thomas make the circuit for twenty minutes alone. There was also a train he could have ridden, but it was closed for the operators to run to lunch, so we had to content ourselves with watching the trains for over thirty minutes. Sam could have stayed there all day, which sounds a little impossible, until you realize just how large this display was. Here is about a fourth of the entire display:
This really was a bit of Christmas, or any day, heaven for Sam.

Finding this display was a bit of serendipity for us in that it helped solidify something Joy and I have been mulling over for a few weeks. In early December, we started our annual Christmas letter. With painting Sam's room and then our computer crashing (taking our Christmas contact list with it) we couldn't finish and get our Christmas cards out this year, but we had decided that we would share thoughts we had on trying to communicate to Sam the light and love of God that were sent to us in the birth of Christ.

One of the practices we've been practicing this year is from a blog on which Joy discovered the practice of counting “One Thousand Gifts”. The idea is to seek God in the ordinary, daily mess of our lives midst laundry and grading papers by simply pausing to see Him in the daily gifts He provides. But beyond that, the list of one thousand gifts is meant to inspire us to thank God (or simply to be thankful) for the gifts we have, rather than to spend this season making lists and then wondering why we didn't get everything we desired.

Truthfully, this is hard for us. Wanting makes us want more. We find ourselves too busy, too preoccupied, too scattered; but we were inspired and wanted to share the inspiration with you. Still, we wanted to start small, so here are our One Hundred Gifts of Christmas, twenty each day through Christmas (in no particular order, and from me, Joy, and Sam).

1. New step stools used to climb on beds
2. Handel's Messiah
3. Choo-choo trains at Union Station
4. Seeing our new baby on an ultrasound
5. Unexpected plates of cookies
6. Little boys who look up at you with big sleepy eyes and say, "can we snuggle?"
7. Buses and trucks of any shape, size, or color
8. Finished rooms painted deep blue
9. Packages with Christmas presents that ship faster than they should
10. Computers fixed by prayer because there is no other answer
11. Construction diggers
12. Playing piano with Sam sitting next to you, playing along and singing
13. Christmas lights in the shapes of trains
14. The warmth of the winter sun after a week of clouds, ice, and snow
15. Healing in the body of Christ
16. Birthday parties for Jesus with 2,3, and 4-year-olds
17. Snuggling on the couch under a warm blanket and watching a movie
18. Hearing Sam sing "Away in a Manger"
19. Unexpected Compliments
20. Uncontrollable laughter

So, there are our first twenty. This practice has been so grounding for us, we encourage you to join with us, either by posting some of your own in the comments over the next few days or by joining in on your own blog.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Big-Boy Room - The Painting Phase

In addition to our broken computer, painting Sam's room has kept me away from blogging. We decided with the coming of TK that we wanted to keep our nursery the way it is (we painted it a neutral green for that purpose two and a half years ago) and move Sam into the guest room. We bought the big-boy bed a few weeks ago and figured the next step was painting the room. Usually, painting would not be a big deal, but we were starting with the beige room:We call it the beige room because everything, I mean everything was beige - the ceiling, the trim, the walls, everything. And the beige must have been there for a while because the walls sucked up all paint we stuck on it and was a bit dirty looking. So first up, we had to paint the ceiling. To give you an idea of how beige the room was, here's the first coat on the ceiling:Then, because the paint on the walls was so old, we decided to prime the walls with a tinted primer. The color is what I delightfully call the blue pepto bismol would be if it decided to be blue:Then we got to the paint itself. Joy has a thing for dark, deep colors. Our dining room is a rich, deep red, and deep, dark colors are a pain to paint. Joy has never been happy with how the paint job on the dining room turned out, so she spent about two days looking up how to paint the deep blue, called Starry Night Blue, evenly. It took a few coats, but we finally figured it out:Doesn't the color just cry out for glow in the dark stars around the ceiling? I finished up all the trim last night, which was bright white, and it turned out well. Sam certainly likes it, and periodically puts his head in the room, points, and declares, "It's blue!" After a week and a half of painting, it finally is.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sporadic Posting

Just a quick note to apologize for the lack of posts around here. Funny things are happening and being said on a daily basis, but between painting Sam's new room, grading tests and papers, and our computer crashing, we've been unable to post. Never fear, though, new posts are eventually on their way!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

New Supper Conversations

Tonight, Sam decided to outdo last night's conversation. It began with his request for more tomato. Usually we can easily handle that request, but tonight we had sweet potatoes and sliced tomatoes at supper. "Why does that present a problem," you are no doubt asking yourself. That is because Sam has decided that potatoes are called tomatoes. We've tried to convince him otherwise, but to no avail. When Granade stubbornness kicks in, it usually does so in high gear and only a breakdown stops its progress. So when he asked for more tomato, we weren't sure which he meant.

"Do you want more sweet potato or more red tomato?" Joy asked, exaggerating each word.

"More tomato!" Sam replied. Joy got up and went to get more tomato and Sam started crying, "More tomato, Mama!" over and over again. I diligently offered him some more sweet potato and he continued to cry about needing more tomato while scarfing down the sweet potato.

Crisis averted, Sam asked to look at the cars paper. I explained that the morning newspaper didn't include a cars section today, just the food section. Unfazed, Sam asked for the food paper. I handed it over and he immediately exclaimed "Oh My Goodness!" and began pointing to various things on the page, asking "Dada, what is it?" The conversation went as follows (and I'm not making this up):

Sam - "Dada, what is this?"
Me - "A cupcake."
Sam - "Dada, what is this?"
Me - "Some candied cranberries."
Sam - "Dada, what is this?"
Me - "Some cookies."
Sam - "Dada, what is this?"
Me - "A cupcake."
Sam - "Dada, what is this?"
Me - "A nun."

Now you know why Sam cried out when he saw the paper. How many times do you see nuns on the front of the food paper? Really, where else can you go from there?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

It's Beginning to Look a lot like Ice-mas

Sorry we've been out of the blogging loop for a few days - we're in finals, our computer crashed yesterday, and we've been hit by multiple ice storms over the past few days. No power loss and no accidents here, but it has meant we've stayed inside more than is probably healthy.

But being stuck inside means that we get to start our great painting project for Sam's new room. We got the first coat on today after painting the ceiling and priming the walls. Hopefully one more coat and then trim and we'll be finished. I'll have pictures to post by next week.

In the meantime, you can warm yourself with this image of Granade stubborness: Sam has entered the "what is this?" phase instead of the "why" phase since turning two. He'll pick things up, cock his head to examine them, and then ask in a sing-song voice - "Dada, what's this?" Most of the time he knows exactly what it is, which leads to interesting exchanges at the supper table:

Sam - Dada, what is this?
Me - A piece of sausage.
Sam - Dada, what is this?
Me - A piece of onion. You should eat it. It's good.
Sam - Dada, what is this?
Me - The piece of onion you just put in your mouth and took back out.
Sam - Dada, what is this?
Me - what is this?
Sam - Dada, what is this?
Me - what is this?
SSam - Dada, what is this?
Me - what is this?
Sam - Dada, what is this?
Me - what is this?
Sam - Dada, what is this?
Me - what is this?
Sam - A piece of sausage.

Joy says she loves watching the battles of Granade stubborness that happen daily. You know my response - what is Granade stubborness?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Shameless Link

Just a quick, shameless link today. Jaime has posted several great pictures from our weekend together that I thought you might enjoy. I've posted one here that imagines what our life will be like if we're having twins next June. Needless to day, Sam would think it were cool if he could feed them:Just click on the picture to enjoy the post.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Kansas City Curse

Just a moment of jubilation - I finished my last class of the semester today! Sure, I still have stacks of grading and a final to give, but I'm done traipsing to class and continually writing lectures.

Most importantly, I survived what I call the Kansas City Curse on my teaching. For the past three years, it has snowed on the last day of class, usually so bad that classes are canceled and I have to create new and interesting ways to deliver my last lectures. The past two years, music history has been a Tuesday/Thursday class, which meant it always got canceled. The weather must have something against Handel's Messiah. Perhaps the sky is tired of hearing that "Every Valley Shall Be Exalted." In any event, I jokingly told my music history class this year that they were special, because they met on Mondays and Wednesday, they were hearing a lecture I had never given before in Kansas City. My students laughed and declared that they shouldn't hear it this year just so I didn't break my streak.

Last night I went to bed convinced that because it was so warm yesterday, we were in the clear as far as snow as concerned.

I was wrong.

About 10:00 this morning, fat flakes began falling and the students began stopping by my office, e-mailing, and calling, all wanting to know if class would still happen. Fortunately, we only got about an inch, so I didn't have to finagle a new way for students to deliver presentations. But as far as snow on the last day is concerned, I'm still 3 for 3. We'll see what happens next year.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Big-Boy Bed

We've been planning on moving Sam into the guest room and keep the nursery for any other children that follow for the past few years, but with the coming of TK ("The Kid"), we've accelerated the plans a bit. We want Sam to feel as though getting a new bed and room is a privilege, not something forced upon him by the new baby that comes to live with us.

We decided we wanted a trundle bed so Sam could have friends (or grandparents) stay with him in his room, so about 2 months ago, we started watching Craigslist. After slogging through countless car beds and bare frames, we found an almost new trundle bed with new mattresses at a good price.

The problem? We found it the night before we flew out for Thanksgiving.

When we returned home, I called the guy selling it and he miraculously still had it sitting in his garage about an hour north of our home. We drove up the Sunday after Thanksgiving to look at it.

We weren't sure how Sam was going to take the news of a big-boy bed, but as soon as Joy put him on it just to keep him out of the way while we examined it, Sam proudly proclaimed, "this is Sam's big-boy bed."

Fortunately it actually was. We bought it, loaded it into my truck, and deposited it an hour later in our garage. Matt helped me haul it up to the guest room this weekend right before they left, so we now have room-o-bed, but every day since then, Sam has had to go and sit on the big-boy bed, read on the big-boy bed, and, of course, jump on the big-boy bed. I'm cool with all but the last one, and we're certainly glad he's excited about the bed. Here's a picture with the quilt and pillows from the guest bed put on it so it doesn't look so naked:
You'll notice that it is tall enough that Sam needs his step to climb into it. Now all we have to do is paint the room and build some bookshelves and we'll be read to move Sam.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Delightful Madness

This weekend our good friends from grad school, Matt and Jaime, came to visit us along with their twins, Zach and Marissa. That's right, we had 2 three-month-old twins and Sam, a two-year-old toddler in the same house. It was delightful madness. Sam was great with the twins, constantly asking about them, wanting to touch them, and in general parenting them as only a two-year-old can.

We spent time catching up, playing a new game, watching Jaime and Joy wipe the floor with me and Matt in said game, and taking care of our kids. As many of you know, with young babies you spend an amazing amount of time just eating, preparing to eat, sleeping, and preparing to sleep. Through it all, Jaime and Matt amazed us in their spirit and the care they shower upon their twins, even when times are hard and they are sleep deprived.

We were so busy with kids that I didn't get the chance to take many pictures, but when Jaime posts hers, I'll be sure to post a link. In the meantime, enjoy this one picture:

Monday, December 3, 2007

Mr. Chavez Takes Over the Music World

There has recently been a bit of a stink in the classical music world, as political reality begins to bleed over into the fantasy world in which music usually lives. Gustavo Dudamel, a young conductor who rose to international prominence after being tapped to take the helm of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009, has recently finished a U.S. tour with his current orchestra, the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela.

That's right, Venezuela.

Dudamel and his orchestra are products of El Sistema, a program that provides music education to youth who otherwise might not receive any. Anywhere else and the program would be celebrated. Because it exists in today's Venezuela, it is suspect. And because these youth were touring the world while other Venezuelan youth were marching protest against Chavez's failed bid to extend his presidency, they were taken to task for not saying anything against Chavez's gambit.

Alex Ross hits the nail on the head of what he calls "The Venezuela Problem" when he notes that the real problem is one of history - so many other musicians took governmental support as hush money when working under totalitarian regimes throughout the 20th century that musicians today want to make sure that they are not silent again. I agree. But with this particular orchestra, we are in a sticky situation. El Sistema was founded by José Antonio Abreu in 1975, long before Chavez. The students and Dudamel in particular are not staying quiet because the program is Chavez's, they are staying quiet because they realize the program is larger than Chavez and needs to stay beyond him. And we will get beyond him, at least it looks so now with the results of the recent election. If things turn differently very soon, I suspect Dudamel will say something, but right now he is doing the right thing - turning the classical world upside down by being the best orchestra at the Proms and proving that public music education works. Just watch this to see why Dudamel is rightly being hailed as one of the next great conductors: